It was a bright but bitterly cold late fall afternoon. The sun reflected off our metal mailbox as I opened its small door. Bills, junk, more bills … wait, what’s this? A letter from a lawyer? Addressed to the father of my children?
I took it upstairs and asked him to open it. It turns out, this was the type of letter we all hope to get. Rather than seeking money, this lawyer was alerting him to the fact that the state was holding a four-digit sum in his name. The lawyer wanted to help him gain access to that money, for a small percentage fee.
It all looked and sounded great, but as with most things in life that sound too good to be true, something wasn’t right. The letter failed to mention a key bit of information: My partner could get this money on his own — without paying the lawyer a penny.
Because I work in financial media, I’ve written a few stories about unclaimed funds. Essentially, when a company owes you money but cannot get in touch with you, they can’t just shrug their shoulders and pocket the cash. Instead, they must deposit it with the state you reside in for safe-keeping. Some cities and municipalities have unclaimed fund repositories, as well.
I had a feeling that might be what this attorney was talking about, so I found our state’s website, looked up my partner’s name, and sure enough, found an amount well over $1,000 just waiting for him to claim. He had been in a car accident several years prior, and while his auto insurer was supposed to pay his medical bills, they had never reimbursed him for these expenses. He fought them hard but eventually gave up, resigning himself to the fact that he’d never see the money.
The insurance company alleged they couldn’t get in touch with him, even while they continued to bill him for his monthly premiums, but they owed him for his medical claims. So, finally, nearly 10 years later, they left the money with the state.
In a way, it was a good thing this lawyer tried to scam us. We had checked our state’s unclaimed money registry a couple of years prior and weren’t expecting any such payout. Without the attorney bringing the payout to our attention, it likely would have sat with the state indefinitely.
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However, there was absolutely no reason to pay this professional to file the paperwork for us. Claiming your money is a simple process, which essentially just requires proving your identity to the state. This attorney wanted more than $100 to file paperwork that my partner ended up filing all by himself within a few minutes.
When you get any letter from a lawyer, read it with great scrutiny. If they’re trying to collect a debt from you, make sure the debt is truly yours and that the statute of limitations for the debt has not already passed. If they’re trying to “help” you collect money you are owed — whether that is from your great aunt’s estate or your state of residence — question the need for their services. Doing so may just end up saving you oodles of money.
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